I think I'll always be a city girl. But sometimes, I do dream of living somewhere with room enough for a backyard full of swishing collards and an old lemon tree heavy with more fruit than I'd know what to do with. Maybe I'd even have a few chickens.
Right now, though, I'm happy enough to pretend. And last weekend, that wasn't too difficult to pull off. Just down the street, the last of the season's Meyer lemons were going for sixty-five cents a pound, so, naturally, I carted as many home as I could manage. And then I had more lemons than I knew what to do with.
I considered making my favourite lemon curd--my standby when Meyer lemons are in season--but I was afraid that with so many lemons that much curd would spoil before Octavian and I could possibly eat it all, as much as we love the stuff. So I decided to take things in an entirely different direction and preserve the lemons.
Preserved lemons are lemons that have been packed in a jar with salt and their own juices and left out to soften for a few days or weeks (depending on the specifics of the process). After that, with all that salt and acid, the lemons will keep in their jar refrigerated for about a year. So when you're longing for sunny, mouth-puckering citrus in high summer, you'll be in luck.
I was introduced to preserved lemons for the first time at Prune in New York City. They came diced--bright, tart little gems--studding a creamy, ricotta-slathered tartine. It was one of those simple but incredible lunches--nothing fancy, just beautiful ingredients thoughtfully put to use. I've been thinking about preserved lemons and summer-vegetable tartines ever since.
You should think of these lemons as a savoury seasoning that will lend salty, lemony-bright notes to your dishes. So far in my kitchen, they've made their way into a lunch of marinated sardines and buttered bread. And I'm thinking that they'll do wonders in parchment-roasted asparagus or stirred into quinoa or rubbed into a chicken awaiting the oven...and maybe even in a cocktail or two. An abundance of lemons, all through the summer! For now, at least, I'm good without a lemon tree.
Moroccan-Style Preserved Lemons
Adapted from Paula Wolfert via Epicurious
Note: the number of lemons you need will really depend on their size. The Meyers I had were rather smallish, so I needed 22 in all to fill up my jar and cover the lemons with juice.
6-8 organic Meyer lemons + 5-15 additional Meyer lemons for their juice
150 g / 2/3 cup fine sea salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Blanch the lemons in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain. This step hastens the softening of the lemons. When cool enough to handle, cut each lemon into 8 wedges, discarding seeds. Toss the lemons with salt in a bowl, then pack the lemons, along with their salt, tightly into a clean 1-quart jar.
Squeeze enough juice from the additional lemons to cover the salted lemons. The lemons may float a little, but this is okay--you should just turn the jar upside down and let it rest that way occasionally while the lemons are curing. Seal the jar and let the lemons stand at room temperature, shaking gently or turning once a day, for 5 days.
Add the oil to the jar and refrigerate. The lemons will keep chilled for up to a year. To use, remove flesh and discard. No need to rinse the lemons.